Today's Papers

Goodbye, My Lord & Taylor

The New York Times, Los Angeles Timesand the Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox lead with the capture of Saddam Hussein’s half-brother, once the head of two major Baathist security agencies and more recently thought to be a high-level player in the Iraqi insurgence. The Washington Post leads with the $10.5 billion acquisition of May Department Stores by Federated Departments Stores, a merger that will create a franchise with 1,000 locations and $30 billion in sales. The deal is expected to reduce Federated-May’s costs by hundreds of millions, meaning thousands of layoffs are likely, as is the shuttering of hundreds of the worst-earning May stores around the country. USA Today devotes its headline to last night’s Oscars, but reefers the coverage itself, leading instead with the growing number of personal attack campaigns spawned by the Social Security debate. The same consultants who advised last year’s Swift Boat Veterans for Truth have been hired by the conservative group USA Next, in part to assail the AARP—one internet ad shows two men kissing at a wedding, and bears the caption: “The REAL AARP agenda.”

Sabawi Ibrahim Hassan Tikriti was captured by the Syrian government along with 29 other Saddam loyalists, then handed to Iraqi authorities after intense pressure from the United States. Hassan was the head of both the General Security Directorate and Mukhabarat agencies, “which between them arrested and killed tens of thousands of Iraqis” (NYT). He’d been number 36 on the U.S.’s 55-member list of Iraq’s most-wanted.

In their coverage of Federated-May merger, the papers agree that the deal means the end of the regional department store, an institution in American retailing for more than a century. The identities of old-guard local franchises like Hecht’s (Washington, D.C.), Famous-Barr (St. Louis), Meier & Frank (Portland), and Robinson’s-May (Los Angeles) have until now been kept intact by owner May Co. But Federated plans to eliminate the old names in order to build a few mega-brands that can compete nationally with Wal-Mart and the newly minted Kmart-Sears colossus. So by next year, your reliable old Goldsmith’s, Burdines and Lord & Taylor stores may all be Macy’s (or SuperMacy’s?).

(The LAT ends by noting that the merger could harm newspapers because there won’t be as many stores to sell ad space to).

The Oscars, in short: Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby won awards for best picture, best director, best actress (Hilary Swank) and best supporting actor (Morgan Freeman). Jamie Foxx gave a heartfelt speech when he won the best actor trophy for his role in Ray, and Cate Blanchett of Martin Scorcese’s The Aviator took best supporting actress honors. Except for Foxx’s speech and a few funny moments courtesy brash host Chris Rock, the 3-hour show remained stubbornly boring and insipid despite efforts by its producers to funk it up.

An NYT front reports on Iran’s recent admission that in the late 1980’s, it had contacts with infamous Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan. According to a document turned over to international inspectors, Khan offered to sell Iran a set of technologies that would enable it to construct a nuclear weapon. Iran appears to have rejected some parts of the deal and accepted others, though more specific details are not yet clear. Officials cite the document as more evidence that Iran is likely concealing uranium production activities from the international community, but say that the information is not a smoking gun.

Meanwhile, reports the WP, the Bush administration may reverse an earlier stance and join with Europe in nuclear negotiations with Iran. The talks aim to use economic incentives to persuade Iran to abandon its quest for nukes. Until now, the Bush government believed that Iran should not be given bribes to do what it was legally bound to do anyway, according to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The LAT runs an interesting feature on the vibrant yet chaotic Taiwanese media, which, though it’s among the freest presses in the world, is so ratings-obsessed that most of its big stories amount basically to tabloid gossip. Reformers are trying to establish higher standards of integrity, accuracy, and accountability, since things like fact-checking and libel-prevention often fall by the wayside in the race to get the story out. A representative snippet: When one professor offered a course on media ethics, “none of his journalism students signed up. Asked why, several said they didn’t want to become ‘schizophrenic,’ constrained by boring niceties that had no place in the real world.”

Razz-Berry: Every year, the Golden Raspberry Award Foundation  hosts an anti-award show a night before the Oscars, where trophies for the year’s worst performances are handed out. In a feat of incredible humility, Halle Berry actually showed up Saturday to accept her Worst Actress Award for Catwoman, and delighted the crowd by reprising her tearful 2002 acceptance speech for her winning role in Monster’s Ball (she brought that Oscar with her to the Razzies). Berry ended by earnestly thanking Warner Bros “for casting me in this piece of [expletive].” Ms. Berry, TP salutes you!